|Anawangin, circa 2008 (original)||Anawangin, 2011|
Unfortunately, after a period of intense buzz, the magic is gone, as is the peace. (Or perhaps I was just hoping for too much to begin with.) Weekends have always been more crowded it seems, but this past weekend, it was a zoo. There must have been at least five hundred people or maybe even a thousand, spread out over a few hundred tents that crowded each other within the forest. Dozens of bancas, big and small were moored on the beach, leaving scant open ocean in which to swim or play. The trail leading to a cliff-top view point suffered from constant traffic jams and a normally quick hike take at least twenty minutes. Beach and forest, which I had been hoping would be untouched were instead filled with make-shift, semi-permanent bamboo huts that served as both faux luxury accommodation (compared to the tents the rest of us were in) and the local Seven 11, a bank of rough toilets and showers, and picnic benches and firepits.
Gone were the beautiful vistas of an untouched beach with pine trees or the forested riverbanks leading into a lagoon. What was left was just a typical tourist scene, marked by unplanned and thoughtless man-made structures with the best natural scenes fenced off with barbed wire so that the owner of the island could charge money for their use. Yet, it is not hard to see why this place has received so much positive word of mouth. It could be stunning, and there is still a lot going for it. The water is still nice, the beach still beautiful and the pine trees still there. If there wasn't a few hundred new potential friends there sharing it with me, I would be pretty happy. A couple of beaches off the main stretch of the cove serve as a reminder of how amazing Anawangin was just a few months ago - deserted and untouched in its pure and unspoiled natural beauty.
Thankfully, even on the main beach, nature has yet to outwardly show permanent consequences. The semi-permanent structures on the beach and in the forest, and the barbed wire fences may be ugly and unfortunate, but they are not un-removable. Yet they are just the beginning and there is no doubt in my mind that at this rate, irreversible damage isn't far off. Already, there is litter scattered about the beach, the forests, and the surrounding hiking trails. Worse, my tour guide told me that the huge amounts of trash generated by hundreds of carefree tour group tourists unconcerned by environmental impacts is disposed of in open mounds deeper in the forest. Nothing is taken off the island and everything is landfilled, including the incredible amounts of recyclables like empty bottles of water and Tanduay Ice.
As bad as this is, it is not the most troubling. Instead I worry about the rates of water usage that ground pumps are drawing out for thousands of tourists a week to wash with, the run off of shampoo and soap that is just seeping back into the ground, the lack of a real sanitation system, the pollution of dozens of daily of banca trips, or the slow effects of thousands of campers on the trees struggling in an already difficult environment.
No, I am certain that Anawangin cannot continue to suffer this level of traffic with this lack of regulation and environmental concern for very long. Something must be done, or something will give.
The truth is that I was at first disappointed that I was not going to get the Anawangin experience I had imagined. Then I got over myself. I was after all, one of the contributors to this madness, just another in the hordes of people who had heard amazing things about Anawangin and rushed over to experience the beauty of nature and (maybe more so) to be able to boast about having gone to friends.
The reality was that I was witnessing the scary underbelly of tourism development firsthand. This was the first season that the fences had gone up, the first season that masses of people were inundating the beach, the first season where running water and toilets were available. Someone (the private owner of the beach) was finally cashing in on his natural gem, and bringing various boat owners and tour group operators up with him. There is money to be made, and they are going to make it.
While I don't want to stand in the way of development, there is a good way to open up tourism and a bad way to do it. Anawangin is fast approaching the bad way. Until the owner (and strangely, I have heard that it is one person who owns the entire cove) reverses course and develops the area sustainably - even potentially limiting the number of people who can visit at any one time - I suggest avoiding Anawangin. If you do go, don't expect peace, quiet, or even much in the way of natural scenic wonder unmarked by human hands anymore. Instead, you will be, like me, both witness and a contributor to the sad demise of Anawangin.